Resurrection – My What for.

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The ASU/AU rivalry is about more than just the Territorial Cup.

I jokingly said one time that you know there is a God when a graduate from the University of Arizona (UA) can be the best of friends with a graduate from Arizona State University (ASU).  This momentous occasion took place at Saint Augustine Episcopal Church altar in Tempe, not very far from ASU’s main campus.  At the time I was serving as the Episcopal Campus Minister at the UA . My Anam Cara, Gil Stafford was the Episcopal Campus Minister at ASU. I was newly ordained and Gil invited me to preside at the Eucharist at his primary altar.  It was a blessed moment, one of many that I treasure with Gil.  He continually blesses me despite his affiliation with the Territorial Normal School at Tempe. Truly, Gil’s work as Canon Theologian, Author, Priest, and Spiritual Director and Teacher is profoundly Spirit-sent and offered. I make progress on The Way because of Gil’s friendship, mentoring, and love.

Thus, I feel like I’m standing on very uncertain and holy ground when I respond to one

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Daniel Jackson, The Resurrection Print – Saint John’s Illuminated Bibl

of Gil’s articles.  Gil blogs at Peregrini.  Usually, I just ruminate over his thoughts. Occasionally, I write a reply on Facebook or in his blog’s comments. This time though, I need to respond.  His “Jesus Go to Hell, Please” piece prompted me to dig deep into my soul .  What do I truly believe about Christ Jesus’ Resurrection?  What is its significance for me? How do I articulate and live it out in my life?  Am I a witness as I preached a couple of weeks ago?   Well, here’s a bit of my “what” Christ resurrection means to me.

First, I believe that The Resurrection is a mystical “meta-narrative” divine and human phenomenon. What does that F!i)kin’ mean? Well, more simply put.  The Resurrection is a transformational event. It happened miraculously with Christ Jesus. It happens with us too – within and beyond our human comprehension. The Divine’s (God’s) Love beckons all of creation, including human beings to live, die, and be reborn . Christ Jesus’ Resurrection was a singular event on that First Easter Sunday morning. And, every human being over the course of this and most likely many life times live into the life, death, and rebirth of Christ Jesus’ Resurrection. Our souls are eternally and profanely engaged in a circular, evolving pattern  of growth – in spiritual, mortal and mystical terms.

 

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Read Origen’s On First Principles here.

Gil refers to Origen of Alexandria the great, Neoplatonist Christian Theologian. Origen was a Christian Universalist. The restoration of all things (Apokatastasis) was absolutely essential to Origen’s theological and moral thinking. (Edward Moore, Origen of Alexandria, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d.). Origen wrote:

 

“For the end is always like the beginning: and, therefore, as there is one end to all things, so ought we to understand that there was one beginning; and as there is one end to many things, so there spring from one beginning many differences and varieties, which again, through the goodness of God, and by subjection to Christ, and through the unity of the Holy Spirit, are recalled to one end, which is like unto the beginning.” (Origen, On First Principles, Book I, Chapter VI. Section II).

Origen believed that our souls were pre-existent and passed through human suffering and sin to reborn life over the course of eternity. (Bryan Rich, Apokatastasis in the Thought of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, December, 2007).  For Origen , all souls, including the most evil ones in the cosmos (choose the human being you despise the most) will eventually achieve salvation. “God’s love is so powerful as to soften even the hardest heart, and that the human intellect – being the image of God will never freely choose oblivion over proximity to God.” (Edward Moore, Origen of Alexandria, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy n.d.).

Origen got himself into a deep mound of Christian doctrinal manure. His beliefs along with the fact that he lived a very ascetic life and allegedly castrated himself didn’t win him many orthodox ecclesiastical friends. Bishops and fellow presbyters mocked and imprisoned him because of his bold, mystical, and innovative understanding of The Holy Trinity, Eternal Salvation, and yes, Christ Jesus’ resurrection.  And yet, his Christian Catachetical School was wildly popular. (ReligionFacts, Origen of Alexandria, n.d.)

Wise, unconventional, and provocative philosophers and theologians frequently run aground when they stir up controversies, especially when they contest strongly held beliefs about such things as heaven and hell and the nature of Christ Jesus’ Resurrection. I observe that Origen and Gil are both out-of-the-box in systematic Christian theological terms.  They are equally iconic in terms of the brilliance of their thinking about Resurrection and Salvation. Both of them are unorthodox and life-giving Christian scholars and clerics. Frankly, in these times of distress, as in Origen’s time, we need theologians such as Gil to point us and The Church into the rebirthing cycle that The Cross initiates and The Resurrection gives birth to for all of us. I make that comment on scriptural as well as metaphysical foundations.

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Shin-Hee Chin, Breath, Mixed Media Painting. View this piece and other works of art at the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts “Telling God Stories in the 21st Century” exhibition

Origen and Gil alike ask me (and you?): What does Jesus’ Resurrection mean for us today? Well, let me respond with a few of my own questions.

 

Why do we need a one-time Savior?  What do we gain with one salvific moment in human history? Have we forgotten that the Romans crucified thousands of Jews? Does Jesus’ forgiveness of sins and God’s redemption of humanity through Christ Jesus’ Resurrection somehow negate the fact that human beings, especially those persons possessing political and imperial power, have executed hundreds of marginalized prophets, philosophers, and activists, including Jesus of Nazareth.   What purpose does Resurrection have for us today amid the carnage of daily gun-related violence, unconscionable levels of human sex trafficking,   and an opioid crisis killing thousands of Americans in the past 20 years. What does our forgiveness require given these ignorant human tendencies and thbrokenness?

Indeed and in belief, we need an eternally loving God and an eternity of maturity, evolution, and rebirth as a species to discover and receive redemption from sin and evil. Christ Jesus’ Resurrection declares that death does not possess victory over life. Yet, there is no pilgrimage, at least in my experience that does not undertake a process of stasis, chaos, and new order (life, death, and rebirth). Such evolution occurs in all sorts of minute and miraculous ways – on God’s time (kairos) rather than humanity’s time (chronos) .

The Resurrection provides this paradoxical Way, to live as a human being. Resurrection declares God’s Love and Grace through the passage of time on this planet and beyond mortal comprehension. Resurrection – in my Progressive Christian terms demands that there is no Easter without Holy Week – there is no Cheap Grace.  And Christ Jesus  is The Vine from which the branches of our faith and belief in God’s love provides The Way for this mortal and our eternal life – for Sun Devils, Wildcats alike and together.

 

 

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Apocalypse – the costly cement of racism.

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Michelangelo’s Last Judgment

I believe in an apocalypse. I actually think such revelations happen in small and large ways every day.   I’m not one of those fundamentalist Christians who believes that Planet Earth is about to crash into Planet Niburu. Conversely, I am re-creating myself as a 21st Century millennialist.  A sense of emerging humility is guiding me to accept the world as it is. New ways of being human are unfolding and dying is part of such a universal and apocalyptic process.

We should desire to live in a safer, healthier, more compassionate world. But, tribalism kills us.  Fear prompts us to blame some external force that is imprisoning us or murdering us. It is who we are as a species. We fear people we don’t know. We objectify others for our problems rather than accept our own faults. We claim to be better than someone from another culture. We wouldn’t act as they do. Yes, we mostly would.

We hope that God or the president or something will make life better. We lack responsibility, creativity, or power to design and enjoy Sabbaths in sacred time and space. We dream of living in a new millennium but  our “thoughts and prayers” are insufficient on their own. Another transformational apocalypse unfolds on our fragile island Earth. Its impact mostly crashes upon impoverished, marginalized people who don’t have the time, money, or access to yoga classes, this week’s diet, or fresh kale.

Screenshot (13)We as a species are frequently willing to deny rational truths about what is taking place in our world. We neglect or deny such rational truths based upon what we value. We are unwilling to give up, power, possession, or property even when such things do not give us the happiness we seek. We refuse to accept some fact or principle even when it is blatantly and factually untrue. We fight or flee from other people when they confront, and especially attack us with their different truths.

Why? Because we are who we are because of what we feel. Our identities are most important to us. Who we are in this day and age is actually much more lethal than it was in Jesus’ day. And, we haven’t matured all that much since the time when Romans crucified thousands of Jews including Jesus of Nazareth. In evolutionary terms, we remain adolescents. Like many teenagers, we think we will live forever and our actions have no consequences. Wise elders among us know such falsehoods are dangerous and tragically risky. We cling to our egoistic, childish, and self-centered attachments – often irrationally. If we desire to bring a new age into being, we must grow up and die daily in uncomfortable ways.

Thus, we indeed find ourselves on the brink of catastrophic consequences. One way of understanding our apocalypse is to see it through the lens of ancient prophets. They were  not just oracles who forecast a future imperial utopia. Instead, they viewed stark realities though the paradoxical presence of widespread despair & irrational hope. They spoke and wrote with confidence because of an unshakable faith and trust in a divinely engaged God who was witnessing and responding to all human cruelty.

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Watch Ta-Nehisi Coates’ interview with Stephen Colbert.

Such prophets abide among us today. Ta-Neihisi Coates prophetically writes and states that we who live in the United States are living and participating in An American Tragedy. One aspect of this tragedy is that our president, in Coates’ words, “who is effectively conducting diplomacy with a nuclear rogue state via Twitter. … We forget how far gone we actually are.” This state of affairs and results are happening because we elected the country’s first Black president. A significant number of white people in the United States resent that reality. Power dynamics are consequentially shifting in the waters of American whiteness.  President Trump seeks to reverse initiatives that President Obama brought into being  according to Coates. Later on  The Late Show, Stephen Colbert asked Coates if he has any hope about  us becoming a better country, creating better race and political relationships. (h/t to Constance Grady on Vox.) Coates’ answer: “No, but I’m not the person you should go to for that. You should go to your pastor. Your pastor provides you hope. Your friends provide you hope”

Really? Not at the church where I serve – at least not authentically. I’m kinda like Coates in one way.  I don’t want to make up bullshit when I don’t believe what I’m teaching or preaching. I have a hard enough time convincing myself that God is present in the continuing suffering and oppression of black and other people of color in the United States. And yet, that is precisely where God is as God was with Jesus.

I am convinced too that our economic and social ways of being are tragically unfair to millions of white people.  That’s not the main thrust of this blog post though. I and millions of people participate in seen and unseen racist ways and motives as a white people.  Thus, I question whether or not I am hopefully dismissing my own racial prejudices by mentioning Coates on my blog. My intention is to become more responsible for addressing the absence of manifest hope for “overcoming the racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. (Sen. B. Obama, Philadelphia, 2008). Racism is one integral chemical in the apocalypse that is revealing itself to me. I learning how to cope with suffering that is and isn’t within my control.

cornerstoneDespair haunts my apocalyptic thinking.  Perhaps I’m reading too much into scripture. Today’s Gospel suggests that Jesus was quick to point out what happens when religious peoples, especially pastors’, priests’, and theologians’, actions are hypocritically inconsistent with God’s yearnings for humanity’s peace and prosperity. He quickly and rudely points out how powerful authoritarians act quickly and violently to harm and execute God’s prophets.  Matthew’s Parable of the Wicked Tenants‘ analagous assault on the vineyard owner’s of course includes Matthew’s conclusive context to the parable. Such an interpretative ending also runs through all other readily available gospel writers’ narratives too, including the Gospel of Thomas. If we don’t like those endings then it is up to us to faithfully elect how to redact and revise them. This is resurrection and reordering work. Jesus the Christ provides a source and cornerstone for such miracles.

Human beings, then and now, choose to observe what is going on in the world and reject it. Our mortality is established upon love/hate relationships with the world we live in and the people we live with each day. We cement ourselves and our stories upon truths that we are attached to and their presence becomes the foundation for our own destruction. Unacknowledged or racial prejudice is one such cornerstone. Will it be that our blind eyes and anxious hearts will cause us to lose the vineyards we live in. This message is especially pertinent for people with significant degrees of racial, political, economic, social, and historical power. Let anyone with ears listen.

Faithful

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Dara Lind explains the Charlottesville White Supremacist Rally

…. But I have no faith myself
I refuse it even the smallest entry.

Let this then, my small poem,
like a new moon, slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith. … (Faith – from Where Rivers Meet – David Whyte – available on Gratefulness.org

People wonder why other people are so hateful.  We witness a group of young white men march on streets of a wealthy, college Virginia town. They wield guns. They shout anti Semitic, racist statements.  They are incensed by counter-protesters who arrive in greater numbers. Consequently a reckless, young white domestic terrorist from Kentucky now living in Ohio chooses to drive his car into the crowd. He kills one woman and injures 19 other people.  The person occupying the Office of the Presidency of the United States quickly identifies Radical Muslim Terrorist activities. He neglects to call out radical white terrorism. Shameful and not surprising.

Such racially-drive violence has happened in our nation since slavery’s first days.  President Lyndon B. Johnson is quoted as saying“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” The problem with this past weekend’s events is that many of the white supremacists were not poor. They were led by men who graduated from the University of Virginia. @Yes,You’reRacist  identified participants who are college students and gainfully employed men who flew from across the country to ‘protect Western civilization’ and seek ‘peaceful ethnic cleansing.’ If this had been a Black Lives Matter protest many participants would be convicted of violent crimes and awaiting trial. Almost all of Saturday’s White Supremacists got into their cars or boarded airplanes and went home – pistols, rifles, guns, Nazi flags, and KKK symbols all intact.

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Kudos to the Isaiah 6:8 Group Members and other folks who attended a Peace Rally in Lewisburg, PA yesterday

Yesterday, many faithful clergy and laity denounced the violence and racism that occurred in Charlottesville. The Diocese of Central Pennsylvania’s Bishop issued a public message.  Bishop Audrey Scanlan wrote: “Pray for the dead and injured and their families, pray for those who witnessed the viciousness, pray in thanksgiving for those who came to control the chaos, and pray for the perpetrators.   And then, commit to work in your own sphere of influence for change.

Yes, what can we do within our own spheres of influence. As Amy Walter said yesterday on Meet the Press: ” What I really worry about is that we are going to move from this conversation very quickly because some shiny object is going to get thrown in front of us and we’re going to miss the opportunity to have this conversation. There are very few people who are leading this conversation beyond just the violent piece of this. And I just fear that by Monday, we’re going to be moving on to something else.” 

Human beings, including me, despise admitting to our shame.  We rationalize why bad things happen to good people so as to negate any role that we might play in allowing tragedies to happen. The harsh fact is that everyone who is an American citizen who is white male, straight, gay, bi, or otherwise sexually orientated inherently possesses large amounts of social capital and cultural benefits because we are male and white. This is true for economically poor, middle class, and wealthy white guys. We rarely if ever pay the same costs for committing the same crimes as our black and brown brothers do.

And, feeling guilty about these benefits really doesn’t change much. What changes the culture and changes me is doing something righteous, courageous, and loving because of my faith. My faith is not some simplistic recitation of a creed on Sunday mornings. My  faith isn’t just about claiming Christianity as my tribe.  If I’m to live as a follower of Jesus, I must get out of the boat as Peter did. I sure as heck don’t have St. Paul’s courage and I can’t just nod my head when he writes that there is no distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. The same Lord is Lord of All and generous to all who seek God. (Romans 10: 12-13)

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Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

In seminary, I recall that there is little value in shaming or blaming anyone about what is taking place around us. What  creates conditions for spiritual and social change is advocating on behalf of oppressed and marginalized persons. Those of us who are fortunate to live in this nation who possess educations, jobs, families, good health, and white skin need to step back from time to time and consider how we may best serve the people around us – beyond our usual boundaries.

Take some time this week and listen to Patrisse Cullors and Robert Ross as they explain OnBeing the “Spiritual Work of Black Lives Matter.” Dr. Ross , of the California Endowment, invites all of us to actualize our faith when he says: “This is powerfully spiritual, important work upon which the future of this nation rests, and I think it calls upon us to bring the best of the total experience of our best selves to the table. It’s not — we can’t mail it in on addressing inequality in this nation. Each of us is going to have to bring the best of ourselves to the equation. Not just the best of ourselves, but the best of ourselves in unity and in coalition.” (Robert Ross, May 25, 2017)

As an Anglican Christian, I most realize my faith in actions on life’s common grounds.  That is, I treat the young African American girl at the communion altar in front of me with special respect.  I meekly speak in my elementary Spanish to the Hispanic server at the Mexican restaurant I enjoy. These are but small kindnesses. The more profound baptismal work happens when we observe evil and do not avoid or become paralyzed by it. Rather we exercise compassion as Jesus did. We go out each and every day and allow God to transform sin into good through our lives.  Our meditations, words, and actions radiate the story of God’s reconciling work around us. (Brother Aidan, Order of The Holy Cross, <OHC>, A Prayer for Charlottesville, August 13, 2017)

Christianity is more than a spectator sport. Today’s world requires Christians to profess to more than the job of offering next-world salvation to other people. This world requires plenty of healing now – especially as such redemptive work applies to racial and cultural tribalism. The deeply wounded, racially biased white supremacists around us require prayers for repentance and wisdom. Thank God for the people who stood up to them non-violently in Charlottesville.   Now, on Monday, truly religious work begins on the streets where we live, the community centers where we learn and play, and especially in our churches where we profess to love a God whose merciful and eternal love knows no boundaries. We will convert minds and win hearts through acts of justice, kindness, and abiding love as God presents such opportunities to us nearby.

Blessings along The Way